Above: The street name plate of Melon Road is as close as anyone comes to the subject of melons in this part of London.
Records for South London, in the Domesday Book (1086), show that there was a ‘Manor of Peckham’. As the centuries rolled by, the large manor was subdivided into smaller areas of land, each of which became a sub-manor.
One sub-manor of Peckham was the Manor of Basing – named after the Basing family at the time of King John, which was around 1212. The manor house stood just west of the northern end of today’s Rye Lane where there is a small turning called Basing Court, which is the only reminder of the name.
Above: Map showing the positions of related roads. Basing Court (blue arrow) is the only street to be named after the original manor of Basing. The exact site of the house is believed to have been between today’s Bellenden Road and Collyer Place (both shown with red arrows). Melon Road (green arrow) is also nearby, on the north side of Peckham High Street.
By the 17th century some of the land was fields, widely famed for growing fruit and vegetables. Many outlying parts of today’s Inner London, like Deptford, Battersea, Fulham and Hammersmith were all well known for growing such produce which was taken to Westminster and the City of London to sell at the markets. Peckham was also well known for growing fruit and having many fields in use as orchards.
One fruit that you might not have thought was being grown at the time was the melon. There is a record of melons, grown on the land in 1629, being sent by Sir Thomas Gardiner, of Basing Manor, to the Court of Charles I. It is recorded that he supplied the king with four melons and that he received venison in payment. Of course, the melons were an exotic fruit, mainly eaten only by people at Court. They were of great value and similarly the ‘payment in kind’ of venison was also a great rarity in those days.
For those who know how built up Peckham is, you are probably struggling to imagine a rural scene of open fields in the area anyway. To imagine exotic fruit like melons being grown on the land is almost a ‘step to far’. However, the evidence is still to be seen in the form of a street name ‘Melon Road’.
Above: Painting by John Crowther in 1884 of the front view of Basing Manor House, beside Peckham High Street.
The Manor of Basing continued to exist until at least 1812 when, according to the local historian William Blanch (who wrote the history of Camberwell), the land was sub-divided into many parts and passed to several owners, thus permanently splitting up the estate. The manor house remained standing for about another century. From 1850 the house was used as a girl’s school. The old house was painted in 1884 by John Crowther. The charming view presents quite a country scene even though, by that date, Peckham High Street had become quite built up.